|Being a pastor has taught me how to be quiet. So has being a husband.|
If there’s a problem, my nature is to move quickly to a solution. For a long time, that translated into me offering my advice about how to address any situation. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking and receiving advice.
But sometimes, oftentimes, part of the solution is taking more time to reflect. You also give a chance to let emotions run their course. So, people don’t always need my ideas about what to do. They need a listening and attentive ear.
Let me offer you a potential biblical example where I could have been too quick to offer advice. It’s Naomi and Ruth.
Their story begins when Naomi and her husband moved from their home country because of a famine. Naomi, her husband and her two sons lived in the country of Moab for about ten years. In that time, her two sons married. At some point, Naomi’s husband died, as did her two sons. That means that Naomi and her two daughters-in-law lost everything.
As a reminder, women who did not have husbands or sons to provide for them faced dire poverty and affliction. You can tell because Naomi heard how God had given food to the people in her own country. She set out to go back for that gift. Not riches or anything more than the basic element of survival.
Only one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law decides to return with her. It’s Ruth. It isn’t too much to paint a woeful picture of their situation. You can hear it in the reception they receive when Naomi returns home. The two are the talk of the town. When the women of the city say, “Is this Naomi,” it’s a sign of how much she had lost.
It’s so extreme, Naomi tells her people to change her name. Naomi means something like “pleasant.” Her life was pleasant before. But not now. In her eyes, God “dealt bitterly” with her. So, she should be known as Mara, which means bitter.
Remember when the Israelites were walking in the desert? They had been three days without water when they came to a place where the water was bitter. Mara.
In Naomi’s declaration to her people, she says something that isn’t entirely accurate. It’s the kind of point I would want to speak up about in my problem-solving venture. She says, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”
That is, she left with her pleasant life and returned with it in ruins. But she wasn’t empty. She had Ruth. Now, again, two widowed women didn’t amount to much at all in that context. Having Ruth might not have seemed all that beneficial at that moment. If I were there and spoke up to correct her, Naomi and everyone else might have given me all kinds of looks.
The story doesn’t say Ruth said anything. She understood what Naomi meant. Instead of bombarding her with advice and correction, she walked with her. She was in this with her no matter what.
And there’s our reminder today.
My advice to Naomi would be to learn to look for the good you have amidst the terrible you’re facing. That’s what I’ve learned to do. Easy for me to say.
Indeed, there are moments when people do need us to speak up and give advice. How much more, though, do they need a good friend, a faithful friend? Someone who isn’t trying to fix their life. Only someone deeply committed to being a part of their life no matter what. Listen to your friends more. Listen to your friends. More.
Listening goes a long way in helping us love.